Friday, July 24, 2009

Warping to reality and back again

My drive to watch ten movies waned after my sixth film and life got so much more exciting and busy. How can life be so crowded? But with the end approaching, I saw a slot of time and a movie marked tentatively as: maybe, and launched myself into motion once more and made it up to nine.

We Live in Public

This is the first true documentary of my festival and it was well-worth it. The reality of the individual in the film, Josh Harris, is odd; but the film swallows you up so that half-way through the film, some of the unquestioned assumptions seemed not worth challenging at all. Only once the curtain came down did I marvel at how amazing such a person could create such enterprises and pull so many people into his life-vortex of creation.

Like many of the biopics I see, I had no clue about Josh Harris before seeing it, and but this time that would go for most of the audience who crowded into watching this movie. He is "the greatest internet pioneer that you've never heard of" after all! Before the bubble burst he was consistently two or three years ahead of technology. He is a definite odd-ball, beyond the normal sense of the word. He probably is the one we can blame for the Big Brother tv series through his extraordinary concept of Quiet: We Live in Public, which for him was "a study of Cultural History", for others it was the ultimate Orwellian / Anarchic experiment. His quirkly life is what is intriguing, where a man with a bent becomes a millionaire, loses it all and becomes just a man with a very odd bent.

This was the third film where the creator made an appearance. I give full kudos to the director for not trying to be an element in the film despite the chance to. I usually dislike the 'documentaries' at festivals often have their creators having significant screentime and roles. The drama behind the scenes was fascinating; while answering the questions a lot of this came out. Her filming process is fascinating as she starts filming without really knowing what will happen and then finds the purpose of the film, and years will often pass while she films more and finds how the story 'fits'. For her, the advent of Facebook was highly analogous to Quiet, and for that it perhaps is a salutory film to watch. This film won the Sundance festival and she is the only director to win that twice!

The screening though was plagued with technical issues. Firstly, the sizing was wrong meaning captions were half off screen; the film ceased at one point; then another time, the screen went dark while the audio intriguingly kept going (and what's more the audio at that point had started to refer to the nudity and sex at one particular 'world' he created, teasing the voyeuristic part of the mind with hidden fancies); at that point, they stopped the film all together. The director of the festival was there in person at the end to express his apologies to the audience and the director in person, and there might be an opportunity to re-watch the film with my ticket stub if anyone is interested due to the botched screening. Another of my picks, the Limits of Control was not screened at all at my preferred time due to technical issues in a previous screening. I hope that the only problems.

All Tomorrow's Parties

Music "documentaries" come in many flavours, and this is simply chocolate! With virtually no narration, it launches into performances at the All Tomorrow's Parties music festival, interspliced with fly-on-the-wall scenes of attendees getting up to mischief, performing, mixing and living. It is a 90-minute sonic experience.

The principle for ATP music festival is that it is a festival curated by a particular band, done without sponsorship, usually in a sea-side town with many attending bands and artists from the obscure to the well-known. The well-known were some of my favourites: Nick Cave, Grizzly Bear and Portishead; whereas there were also a few bands I want to know more about (Animal Collective and Battles). But all of the performances dazzled. The opening by Battles transcended music completely. Nick Cave performed Snoop Dogg's favourite song (of a few years ago), The No-Pussy Blues. Portishead, characteristically, outdid their studio recording in a blasting rendition of We Carry On. But some of the odd things was how so unlike any concert it really was. The bands and the audience were mixing closely, staying in the same accommodation. Performances were often done in the immediate lawn of the holiday inn. A character who I've never heard of The Lightning Bolt, in a courtyard, dressed in a gimp-suit with extra masking tape, at a drum-set, was surrounded by fans demanding him to perform a particular song: "Thirteen Monsters!"; "Mrrrmrrr Mrrrmrrr?" he clarified. The fans yelled again; he still seemed unclear; One fan put up tried to put display thirteen fingers yelling the title, before he suddenly showed comprehension and launched into the fastest drum-sequence, sending them into ecstacy. Grizzly Bear took a group at sunset to the water's edge with instruments to perform Deep Blue Sea to close the movie. All footage was taken not as some deliberate recording but as incidental, by fans and others. All told: Wow!


Oh, Christ! was perhaps what many people uttered, instinctively and without any irony, during this film. I committed myself to watching it, too, solely on the director, Lars von Triers. I've seen many of his movies and have huge appreciation for his range. Only with Dogville and Mandalay did he repeat a technique. Dancer in the Dark, the first movie of his that I saw, remains one of my favourite movies and may well be the reason I have so much patience with his movies, just as Mulholland Drive gave Lynch a mile of leeway to exploit.

Once committing though, any reading into this piece could only give one the heebie-jeebies. Just with the synopsis and an accidental spoiler listed with the movie's rating (as they need to state the objectionable things in the rating, it did allude to some of the undescribables that would arise), I went into the cinema and was immediately absorbed into this story of grief, evil and madness. The acting was magnificently good: Charlotte Gainsbourg won the best actress award at Cannes for her role (she was Stephanie in The Science of Sleep); Willem Dafoe must've been a good contender in his category. (And interestingly, they are two thirds of the whole cast!) For the first half of the movie they were the relationship; I could even relate to some aspects of it from life experiences; it breathed reality. As the movie progresses into physical and psychological isolation, the sounds and sights become more distorted. At one point I noticed that in amongst the bird-song and tree-cry of the forest, there was a background beat to quicken your heart. The screen image seem to bend occasionally; images flashed from nowhere. The pace was deliberately slow, but only to give you a sense of balance before it pummels you to the ground in a lightning attack, psychological or physical.

The movie made attempts at a greater meaning that I'm still trying to make sense of. And it also almost fell into the ridiculous with the intrusion of a fawn, a fox and frenetic crow as an allegory straight into the plot of the movie. Both Dogville and Mandalay had attempts at greater meaning too, and both strained to do so. Mandalay helped itself in this regard by having archival photos of Blacks in poverty and oppression backed to David Bowie's song The Young Americans just to make its point clear. My feeling is that it is meant as an some sort of an artistic redress for misogyny: the burning of witches, the oppression of women, and for the deeming of feminine nature as evil or corrupting. The film reaches into the guts of this idea and the turns the creature inside out, creating the embodiment of feminine evil as almost a mockery, as a woman Christ to be crucified, to be what the men had said the witches were - evil for the sex, and to be burnt for it. And then take this embodiment and inflict it on a pure man of reason, knowledge and chivalry tempting him into sin. And as I try to hold the movie in my head to write this, it is perhaps only then I can take the significance of the title: Antichrist.

Despite the trauma, I'm glad I saw this movie. I might be wrong with my interpretation and might have rolled my eyes at the intrusion of the symbolic fauna, but it was a true cinematic experience (surpassing Birdsong in its uniqueness), and a great way to cap off the festival. It was, for me, the best film of the nine I saw. (Regardless of my praise here, only go to see this if you are truly broadminded about film, truly tolerant of gratuitously inflicted cinematic pain and patient to let a film open itself slowly to you.)

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